June 13, 2014

PORTO SEGURO, Brazil (AP) Injuries have depleted Germany's defense in such a way that its opening match against Portugal may see four central defenders in the starting line-up, with two of them out of position and two who have rarely played together.

Coach Joachim Loew didn't seem unduly worried on Friday about the prospect, confirming that his back four may feature four central defenders.

Captain and right back Philipp Lahm could move into the midfield, with Jerome Boateng taking his place in Monday's Group G match. The left back position could go to Benedikt Hoewedes, while Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker would be the central defenders.

Loew explained that fullbacks would not play as big a role at the World Cup as in qualifying, when teams usually play very defensively against Germany. Runs on the flanks are a good way to break down defenses.

Lahm often played as a defensive midfielder for Bayern Munich last season and Loew indicated that it would happen again on Monday.

''He played in the midfield in the last warm-up match (a 6-1 victory over Armenia) and I am pretty sure he will do the same on Monday as well,'' Loew said this week.

But Loew could be hiding his cards. With Lahm as right back, his two central defenders could be Mertesacker and Boateng, who have played together more often than Mertesacker and Hummels. The latter two have looked uncomfortable on occasions.

''We do have a little problem there,'' Loew acknowledged.

Boateng sees himself as a central defender and feels more comfortable in that position than on the flank.

Hoewedes is not a natural left back either. That position has been a source of worry for Loew for a long time. Marcel Schmelzer was ruled out of the World Cup with a knee injury and his place went to Borussia Dortmund teammate Erik Durm. But Durm is a newcomer, who started out as a forward and was retrained as a defender by Dortmund's coach Juergen Klopp to replace the injured Schmelzer.

Durm came up against Portugal's star striker Cristiano Ronaldo when Real Madrid eliminated Dortmund in the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season.

Lahm could be needed in a defensive midfield position as there are doubts about Bastian Schweinsteiger's fitness following a knee injury, while Sami Khedira also sat out six months with a knee injury.

Mertesacker spent the 2012 European Championship on the bench after returning from injury. Hummels and Holger Badstuber were Germany's central defenders then, but Badstuber has been out for months with a knee injury and Mertesacker is healthy again.

''This has been my best season since I joined Arsenal,'' said Mertesacker, who helped his side lift the FA Cup last month at Wembley Stadium.

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